Kansai seeks to up profile in Asia

by Eric Johnston

KYOTO — Kansai’s annual gathering of corporate leaders kicked off Wednesday in Kyoto with calls for young people to go abroad and for the region’s identity to be strengthened within Asia.

“Due to protectionist trends in the world economy and increasing political unrest internationally, it seems that Japan is turning inward. Young people don’t want to work abroad, and aren’t motivated because they don’t have a place to compete. Is Japan OK?” asked Hiroshi Shimozuma, head of the Kansai Economic Federation, at Wednesday’s opening session.

Although many Japanese and foreign educators who have links with Japan have been saying for at least a decade that fewer students are studying abroad, or at least in the West, the issue was not high on the radar of the political and senior corporate worlds until last year, when the president of Harvard University said only five Japanese were studying at its undergraduate school.

Since then, corporate leaders in particular have voiced concerns about how to persuade more young Japanese to study and work abroad.

During the two-day seminar, corporate leaders will discuss how to reverse the trend toward insularity among not only young students but older politicians who, Shimozuma said, must be brave enough to pursue unpopular polices that are good for the country.

Shimozuma said that Japan and Kansai must cast their eyes on the country’s Asian neighbors, and raise a new generation of workers able to compete with their counterparts from these nations.

Makoto Yamanaka, head of the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives, took a softer approach to expanding the region’s ties with Asia.

“Kansai and Asia have deep historical and economic ties, and are geographically close. To create an environment for economic growth, we at the local level must use our advantages to contribute to the peace and prosperity of Asia, which will lead to sustainable growth for Kansai and Japan,” he said.